Mesothelioma is a rare form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Although it is the rarest disease related to asbestos exposure, it is the most dangerous.
A mesothelioma diagnosis can cause significant physical, emotional, and financial distress for a patient. But, is the disease always terminal?
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma affects the cells that line vital organs including the lungs, heart, and abdomen. The cancer causes these cells to divide at an abnormally fast rate, leading to the development of large masses that can compromise organ function and lead to the patient’s death.
There are four main types of mesothelioma, including the following:
Pleural mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma affects the lungs and is the most common form of the disease. Approximately 75% of mesothelioma patients have pleural mesothelioma.
Peritoneal mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma affects approximately 20-30% of mesothelioma patients and mainly impacts the abdominal area.
Pericardial mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma attacks the cells of the lining of the heart, known as the pericardium. Approximately 5% of mesothelioma patients have pericardial mesothelioma.
Testicular mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma is the rarest form of the disease, and has affected fewer than 100 patients in the last 20 years.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
The main cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become embedded in the cells that line the lungs, heart, and abdomen. From there, asbestos fibers may follow one of the following processes that have been theorized:
Asbestos causes cells to produce oncoproteins, which are the molecules that cause otherwise healthy mesothelial cells to divide at an abnormally rapid rate.
When asbestos fibers enter the system, they disrupt cellular structures responsible for normal cell division. The resulting cellular changes lead to cancer.
Asbestos irritates and inflames the mesothelial cells that line organs, leading to the production of scar tissue and the cellular damage that causes cancer.
Asbestos absorbed into the system causes the production of molecules known as free radicals. These free radicals damage DNA, which leads to cell mutation and cancer.
Mesothelioma Risk Factors
Certain individuals are more likely to develop mesothelioma than others. Those most at risk include workers operating on job sites that have hazardous materials including asbestos and other toxic particulates.
Additionally, mesothelioma risk factors include:
Living with someone who works with asbestos
Having received radiation treatments from the 1920s to the 1950s
Having a family history of mesothelioma
Veterans are also at an increased risk of mesothelioma. Since asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was valued for its insulation and heat-resistant properties, it was used widely by every branch of the United States military. This widespread usage of asbestos in the military exposed many servicemen and women to this toxic substance during their tours of duty.
Now, it is estimated that many thousands of American veterans are living with mesothelioma, even if they have not yet experienced symptoms.
Mesothelioma’s Latency Period
One factor that makes mesothelioma so dangerous is its long latency period. A latency period is the amount of time that elapses between exposure to the disease-causing agent and the development of the disease. As such, the symptoms of mesothelioma often do not present themselves until the disease has reached its later stages, at which point the chance of a positive prognosis is unlikely.
The length of mesothelioma’s latency period depends on the individual’s level of exposure to asbestos. The greater the level of exposure, the shorter the latency period. However, in some cases, the latency period can last decades, perhaps even upwards of 50 years.
Can Mesothelioma Be Cured?
Unfortunately, many mesothelioma patients receive a delayed diagnosis, which impacts their recovery prognosis. This delay in diagnosis is largely because the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other respiratory illnesses, and it can be difficult for medical professionals to diagnose mesothelioma correctly the first time.
The symptoms of mesothelioma include:
Shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Persistent, dry cough
Unexplained significant weight loss
Persistent chest pain or pain while breathing
Lumps under the skin on the chest
Another issue is that mesothelioma often does not display symptoms until its later stages. At this point, a patient’s prognosis for recovery is not positive.
Mesothelioma’s long latency period, and its tendency not to present symptoms until the later, more dangerous stages of the disease, mean that most cases of mesothelioma are terminal.
The average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient is six to 18 months after diagnosis. There are, however, several treatment options that can improve a patient’s life expectancy. These therapies include the following:
Surgery. Certain surgical procedures can improve a patient’s quality of life by draining excess fluid from the lungs or removing certain tumors. If the patient’s mesothelioma is in its early stages, it is possible that a surgical procedure can remove the pleura (the lining of the lungs) along with the cancerous tumor. If the cancer has not yet metastasized, this method may cure the patient of their mesothelioma.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may kill rapidly-dividing cancer cells and slow the progression of mesothelioma. Depending on the stage of the mesothelioma, chemotherapy may be given as the primary treatment, or in conjunction with other therapies.
Radiation. Radiation uses x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation is a common treatment option for patients who are too weak to ensure chemotherapy or invasive surgery.
Gene therapy. Gene therapy introduces genes into the patient’s body that render cancer genes’ defense mechanisms useless and makes them more susceptible to chemotherapy.
Photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses light energy to eliminate cancer cells that are sensitive to a specific kind of light. This treatment is only effective in localized mesothelioma.
Can You Prevent Mesothelioma?
The dangers of asbestos, as well as its tendency to cause lung cancer, have been known as early as 1900. However, many institutions were slow to phase out the toxic substance.
Asbestos mining was not discontinued in the United States until 2002. The U.S. Navy still used significant amounts of asbestos in ships until the 1970s. And, given what we know about mesothelioma’s latency period, it is very possible that people who worked in or around these mines and ships have mesothelioma, but do not yet know it.
Therefore, it’s important for you to know how to bring legal action against parties who exposed you to asbestos. First and foremost, you must know the statute of limitations for such cases. Although this time limit varies from state to state, the average mesothelioma patient has 1-2 years from the date of their diagnosis to file a claim.
Second, you may be able to recover compensation for the following damages from any and all liable parties:
Past and future medical bills
Past and future lost wages
Pain and suffering
Loss of consortium
Suffering from Mesothelioma? Contact Us Today
If you were exposed to asbestos at home or in the workplace and you now suffer from mesothelioma, our team is here to help. At Shrader & Associates L.L.P., our mesothelioma attorneys are well-versed in this area of the law, and we know how to fight for your rights and best interests successfully.
Contact us today at (877) 958-7920 to schedule a consultation with our team.